As the coronavirus spreads across the country, scientists ask: Are some people more infected than others? Are there spreaders, people who seem to be spreading the virus, making them more vulnerable to infection?
The answer seems to be yes. There seems to be a general, undefined term for people who infect a disproportionate number of other people, either as a result of inheritance, social mores, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But researchers say virus carriers who are at the heart of what are called epidemics can lead and cause epidemics, so it’s important to discover ways to identify episodes or prevent situations, such as crowded rooms, where spread can occur.
Equally important are those at the other end of the spectrum: people who are infected but who are unlikely to transmit the infection.
John Zillner, the epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, said that distinguishing between the most infectious and least infectious people can make a big difference in the ease and speed of containing an outbreak. If the affected person is widespread, contact tracing is especially important. But if the infected person is the opposite of excessive contrast, a person who does not transmit the virus for any reason, contact tracking can be a wasted effort.
The difficult part is that we don’t necessarily know who these people are, Zeelner said.
Martina Morris, professor of honorary statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, said two factors are at work.
She said: There must be a link between people to transmit the infection. But he added that the link is necessary but not sufficient. The second factor is the extent of a person’s infection. Morris said: We had absolutely no independent data for these two issues.
He noted that it can be easy to misrepresent the multiple infections to the individual, perhaps exposing the person to a general attack, when the spread does not have a person’s infectious relationship.
If you are the first person in a crowded room to get an infection and if it is a disease that spreads easily, it will appear to be highly prevalent, he said.